How Do I Give First Aid for Poisoning?

Dan Cavallari

The first and most important step for giving first aid for poisoning is to identify what poison has been ingested or otherwise incurred and how the poison entered the body. This may be difficult, and time will be a factor in some cases, so if you cannot identify the poison, call poison control immediately to seek advice. You will more than likely be advised to get the poisoned person to a doctor or hospital as soon as possible. If you can identify the poison, call poison control immediately to find out the best first aid for poisoning in that specific instance.

Poisoning may cause vomiting.
Poisoning may cause vomiting.

Different poisons will require different first aid processes. There is very often no set first aid for poisoning that covers all poisons. It may be tempting to immediately flush with water, induce vomiting, and so on, and while these steps may be recommended in some instances, they can be harmful in others. Some chemicals that are poisonous will list first aid for poisoning directly on the bottle. Soaps and detergents, as well as other chemicals commonly found underneath the sink or in the garage, will have instructions on what to do if contact with the skin is made or if the product is ingested. Read these directions carefully and do what is instructed. Once all steps are complete, it is best to seek medical attention.

Poisoning is sometimes the cause of partial paralysis.
Poisoning is sometimes the cause of partial paralysis.

The steps of first aid for poisoning will also vary according to the location of the poisoning. If, for example, the material makes contact with the eyes, the steps necessary to treat this situation will be different than if the poison is ingested. You will need to be careful in these situations, as items such as eyeglasses or contact lenses may need to be removed for eye poisoning, but touching these items can also spread the chemical or poison.

911 should be called whenever someone ingests poison.
911 should be called whenever someone ingests poison.

The most important step in first aid for poisoning is staying calm. Panic breeds more panic, and it makes any situation much worse and far more dangerous. Calm down and try to keep the victim calm. If you are the person who has been poisoned, anxiety can cause symptoms that have nothing to do with the poisoning itself. Staying calm will allow you to accurately assess the situation and take the best course of action. Find out as much as possible about the particular poison in the limited time you will have, and then contact poison control or a medical provider.

Poison control should be called if a poison has been accidentally ingested.
Poison control should be called if a poison has been accidentally ingested.

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Discussion Comments


I was always told to induce vomiting when dealing with poisonings. That was the only way to get the poison that hasn't been absorbed by the body out of there. I've since learned that inducing vomiting may do more harm than good. The patient may end up vomiting naturally as a reaction to the poison, but untrained first responders shouldn't do it without authorization.

The thing I would do if I came upon a victim of poisoning would be to gather as much information as possible for actual medical personnel. Try to locate the source of the poison, such as a pill bottle or storage container or contaminated food. Ask the victim what he or she can remember before they ingested the poison, like the time of day or names of people around them. If that person becomes unresponsive, at least you'll be able to relay that information for them.


When my little cousin accidentally drank some turpentine, none of us really knew what to do first. He wasn't unconscious, and he wasn't convulsing or heaving. He was just really quiet, and couldn't focus on anything. My brother called 911 to get an ambulance out there, and the dispatcher gave him the number to the Poison Control center. She said it was important to know exactly what he swallowed and approximately how much of it.

The Poison Control center told him that a child that age would have to ingest twice as much turpentine to reach toxic levels. He wasn't out of the woods, but the doctors should be able to neutralize the poison at the hospital and he would be feeling better in a few hours. We actually did the best thing for him by not trying to do anything. Inducing vomiting might have caused more damage to his esophagus, and we didn't have the right neutralizing agents, like activated charcoal, at home.

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